Lobbying in Bangladesh secretariat
ADMINISTRATIVELY, a democratic government may be less efficient than a non-accountable government. Yet, democracy is the best because it gives full freedom (not license) to think, speak and protest, and people are even empowered to force the government to step down. This does not mean that a group of people or some leaders of the party in position can ensure their own interest, causing harm to the nation.
In a democracy there may be cases of managing or canvassing, but if it exceeds the limit the government has to control it. This, however, needs cooperation and understanding from the people, particularly supporters of government.
Lobbying has always been strong in Bangladesh during democratic regimes, but it is learnt that it has reached an intolerable level nowadays. Even our prime minister appears to have been unhappy with the increase of tadbir (lobbying) in the Bangladesh secretariat. With ambitious an election manifesto, lack of cooperation from the opposition and threat of possible impact of global economic meltdown on the economy she has to worry about realising her vision. Furthermore, on assumption of office, she could see the devastation caused to administration by 4-party alliance regime.
With a not-so-efficient bureaucracy debilitated by politicisation and graft, the implementation of various programs has become an extremely onerous task for the government. During the last 6 months some new ministers have not, perhaps, been able to perform well due mainly to their lack of experience and inadequate assistance from the bureaucracy. Thus, they appear to have failed to fulfill the desire of the prime minister.
We learned from a brief survey by a weekly (2000) that some senior AL leaders find faults with some new ministers' capacity, and also try to pressurise the said ministers to listen to their advice. Some assistant private secretaries are not showing enough tact in tackling the visitors, who include senior politicians, student leaders, businessmen or government servants, lobbying for promotions, or transfers or postings. It is said that more than 1200 people a day visit the secretariat.
The secretariat is really the hub of administration. Due to heavy pressures of visitors the ministers cannot concentrate properly on their task. If enough time is not given to cope with their task it is obvious that the quality of policies concerned will be poor. There will be delays in implementation and, ultimately, it may have a negative impact on the development and growth of the nation.
Lobbyists mainly bother the ministers/state ministers, secretaries and joint secretaries. Despite the displeasure of the prime minister, the incursion of lobbyists could not be checked. Lobbying is either personal or group based. Among the most affected ministries are education, health, public works, local government, communication, food and disaster management, commerce and home affairs. Some senior leaders even threaten senior officers to have their demands met.
The ministers and senior officers need not feel frustrated because individual efforts by them to withstand pressure will ultimately be supported by the prime minister. What is needed is tactful handling of the visitors.
In consideration of the situation the following suggestions are offered to bring down lobbying in the secretariat to a reasonable level. They are:
-Increasing the number of working days from 5 to 6 with 2-hour break for Friday prayers. Sundays should be closed;
-Ministers may try to give time to lobbyists in their official residences;
-Visiting hours in the secretariat may be restricted to 2 hours, with no visiting on Fridays;
-No change of orders of transfer or posting on flimsy grounds; · Lobbying for promotion may be treated as a violation of service discipline.
-Though lobbying in Bangladesh is nothing new, the recent abnormal increase appears to be caused by:
-Induction of a large number of new faces in the cabinet, which has made some aspiring senior leaders unhappy. They may be putting unfair pressure on new ministers;
-Due to lack of dynamism in the administration even routine matters are delayed, compelling the concerned to go for lobbying;
-During the last 7 years pro-AL people were either deprived of their legitimate rights or were unjustly punished. Thus, these people now want to regain their rights as quickly as possible.
We need not be frustrated. With more experience gained by the new ministers, and reorganisation and reshuffling of the senior level of the bureaucracy, the situation will certainly improve in the not too distant future.